Eliza Bartlett is shaking off the stigma of type 1 diabetes. She is a nurse, cricketer and inspiration


October 05, 2019 15:54:15

At 27, Eliza Bartlett would like to buy a house — instead she’s saving her money just to stay alive.

Key points:

  • Eliza Bartlett has almost lost her life to type 1 diabetes several times
  • She was diagnosed at the age of nine and spends $10,000 a year on medical equipment
  • To raise awareness and funds, she walked 4,200 kilometres across Europe in 177 days

The Adelaide mental health nurse has type 1 diabetes and yearns to one day be free from the needles, cords and machines that she requires 24 hours a day to live.

Several times, she has nearly lost her life to the condition.

“We have had times where she hasn’t woken in the morning and it’s only by pure luck that one of the family has gone to check on her, or someone has tried to contact her, that we’ve found her in a coma,” her mother Jane Bartlett said.

Ms Bartlett, who is also a South Australian cricketer, is about as fit and healthy as a person can be. But people blame her chronic illness on her diet.

“I was a nine-year-old kid that weighed 20 kilos when I was diagnosed and hearing those things that I was eating too much sugar, it was really tough to tell people that I did nothing wrong and it was just bad luck that I got it,” she said.

“The awareness isn’t there; when you hear diabetes on the news it’s generally focused on type 2, and that’s a very different condition.

“In the healthcare system, I have been asked by nurses and other people why I don’t just take tablets, that’s something that isn’t possible for me — if I wasn’t on insulin and daily injections or wearing an insulin pump, I would die.

“Diet isn’t going to cure me.”

Seventeen years ago, when the then-nine-year-old asked for a quarter off the netball court, her mother instantly knew something was wrong.

She was very quickly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, often called juvenile diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels.

“I love sport and it was very rare for me to want to be off the court,” she said.

“That day was a huge life-changer and I actually loved the experience of being in hospital.”

Since then, she’s undergone about 50,000 finger pricks and spends almost $10,000 a year on equipment, insulin and other medication.

Fighting the diabetes stigma

Her mother wishes that day had never come, but Ms Bartlett has turned it into a positive.

Desperate to fight the stigma attached to diabetes, she has taken “remarkable” steps internationally.

For the past 177 days she has walked 4,200 kilometres from southern Italy to Scotland fighting blood sugar lows, dehydration and every type of weather.

It was no easy feat for someone with type 1 diabetes — half her backpack was taken up with diabetic supplies and at one stage, her mother had to fly halfway across the world to top up her insulin supplies.

“There’s nothing I could hold back on, I had to make sure I was prepared for every situation,” she said.

“I had every challenge under the sun, so I’d be walking and have really high blood sugars and not know why and occasionally my insulin pump would fall out, which results in my blood sugar shooting really high and becoming quite nauseous,” she said.

“Some of the treatment these days could help with that but unfortunately continuous glucose monitors are so expensive for people my age, that having six months without work meant I couldn’t be on this technology while I was away.”

Despite a lot of her income and savings going towards treating her condition, she managed to fund the entire walk from her own savings, so that every cent she raised could go towards prevention and a cure.

She is desperate to stop her older sister suffering the same fate.

“My sister has every single antibody to get type 1 diabetes; she’s been told she has a 100 per cent chance of being diagnosed and she’s kind of just waiting for that day to be diagnosed,” Ms Bartlett said.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch because I know exactly what the condition entails and to watch my sister go through that, hopefully we can prevent it.

“I can’t wait to see how [the money and research] improves people’s lives.”

Jane Bartlett said she was “enormously proud” and relieved to have her daughter home in Adelaide.

Ms Bartlett believes there is a cure ‘in sight’

Ms Bartlett has previously walked from Adelaide to Melbourne raising money for diabetes research and prevention.

“It was something we actually tried to prevent her from doing, we knew how difficult it was going to be but we also knew there was no way we were going to be able to stop her because she’s such a determined person,” Jane Bartlett said.

“I think every mother of a child with a chronic illness would understand just the added trauma that brings to a mum.

“But Eliza just manages with a smile on her face all the time, but behind that is a lot of challenges.

“There are changes on the horizon, and we believe there is a cure in sight.”

For Ms Bartlett, life ahead will likely include many more health complications and possibly a reduced life expectancy.

But she said being diagnosed with diabetes was one of the best things that could have happened to her.

“I think I use diabetes as a bit of a reason to make sure I can do everything and I can do more than everyone else,” she said.

“It makes things a lot more challenging, and it definitely hasn’t given me an easy road.

“But it’s given me the resilience and the determination to just prove people wrong and show other people whether it’s diabetes — or another chronic illness — there’s no reason that you can’t reach your goals.”

Ms Bartlett returns straight back to work and cricket this week.







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